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·达赖啦嘛论爱同情怜悯与慈悲
·达赖啦嘛论藏传佛教的价值
·是中共暴政而非汉族奴役迫害藏民族!
·新疆暴亂是中共流氓暴政故意利用民族茅盾转嫁统治危机人为泡制的惨案
·坚决支持藏民维民争自由,平等,人权,民主的英勇抗暴运动
·从图片新闻看达赖喇嘛的国际影响力
·达赖喇嘛语录郭国汀译
·蜡烛与阳光争辉------从温家宝批达赖喇嘛说开去
·达赖喇嘛代表流亡政府及全体藏民与中国政府和平谈判理所当然----兼与王希哲兄商榷
·三一四西藏暴乱事件的真相
·布什总统再度敦促中国(中共)与达赖喇嘛对话
·达赖喇嘛抵美国西图参加为期五天的慈善的科学基础大会,据称150000门票全部售出
·布什总统出席奥运开幕式已不确定
·达赖喇嘛今天重申不抵制奥运会
·布什总统决意出席奥运开幕式并非仅由于他性格顽固
***(47)人权律师法律实务
·郭国汀:中国人没有基本人权——2008年加拿大国会中国人权研讨会专稿
·我为何从海事律师转向人权律师?
·盛雪专访郭国汀从海事律师转变成人权律师的心路历程
·我从海事律师转变成人权律师的思想根源
·郭国汀律师受中共政治迫害的直接原因
·我从海事律师转变成人权律师的心路历程
·成为一名人权律师!---郭国汀律师专访
·一个中国人权律师的真实故事
·世界人权日感言/郭国汀
·人权漫谈/南郭
·人权佳话
·保障人权律师的基本人权刻不容缓
·不敢或不愿为法轮功作无罪辩护的律师,不是真正的人权律师!
·人权律师辩护律师必读之公正审判指南(英文)
·我为什么推崇中国人权律师浦志强?
·巴黎律师公会采访中国人权律师郭国汀
·
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·驳斥刘路有关六四屠城的荒唐谬论
·李建强律师与郭国汀律师的公开论战
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·废除或修改煽动颠覆国家政权罪思想监狱中国律师集体第一议案的诞生
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·敦促刘路公开辩污的公开函
·敦促刘路公开辩污的最后通牒
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***自由人权宪政共和民主之路争论
·中国人缺少宽容精神么?
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·关于刘晓波是否合格人选答阮杰函
·郭国汀评刘晓波之伪无敌论
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·为什么应当支持刘晓波?
·郭国汀邀请刘晓波公开论战的函
·告别自由中国论坛网友公开函
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***(48)人权律师思想辩护策略论战
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***(49)重大人权案件辩护
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Constitutional Interpretation

Constitutional Topic: Constitutional Interpretation
   The Constitutional Topics pages at the USConstitution.net site are presented to delve deeper into topics than can be provided on the Glossary Page or in the FAQ pages. This Topic Page concerns the various interpretations of the Constitution that have evolved over time.
   
   The Constitution is many things to many people. Undoubtedly, it is the frame work for the Government of the United States of America, defining the three branches and clearing delineating the powers of the branches. It also undoubtedly grants certain power to the federal government and grants others to the states; and it undoubtedly guarantees the basic rights of the people.

   The Constitution is short; it cannot and does not attempt to cover every eventuality. Even when it seems it is clear, there can be conflicting rights, conflicting spheres of power. When disputes arise, it comes time for people, and most importantly judges of the Judicial Branch, to interpret the Constitution. The concept of constitutional interpretation is foreign in some countries, where the constitution makes a reasonable effort to cover every eventuality. These constitutions are generally rigid and little changing, adapting slowly to advances in political views, popular opinion, technology, and changes in government. The U.S. Constitution, however, has been termed a Living Constitution, in part because it grows and adapts to internal and external pressures, changing from one era and generation to the next.
   When a new situation arises, or even a new variation on an old situation, the Constitution is often looked to for guidance. It is at this point that the various interpretations of the Constitution come into play.
   There is no one right way to interpret the Constitution, and people often do not always stick to one interpretation. Below, then, are the major divisions in interpretation; your own personal beliefs may fall into several of these categories.
   Note: the major sources for material for this section were "Constitutional Law: Cases and Commentary" by Daniel Hall, and "On Reading the Constitution" by Lawrence Tribe and Michael Dorf.
   
   Originalism, or, Original Intent
   Originalists think that the best way to interpret the Constitution is to determine how the Framers intended the Constitution to be interpreted. They look to several sources to determine this intent, including the contemporary writings of the framers, newspaper articles, the Federalist Papers, and the notes from the Constitutional Convention itself.
   Originalists consider the original intent to be the most pure way of interpreting the Constitution; the opinions of the Framers were, for the most part, well documented. If there is an unclear turn of phrase in the Constitution, who better to explain it than those who wrote it?
   Opponents of originalism note several points. First, the Constitution may have been the product of the Framers, but it was ratified by hundreds of delegates in 13 state conventions - should not the opinions of these people hold even more weight? Also, the Framers were a diverse group, and many had issues with specific parts of the Constitution. Whose opinion should be used? Next, do the opinions of a small, homogeneous group from 200 years ago have the respect of the huge, diverse population of today? To a black woman, how much trust can be placed in the thoughts of a white slave owner who's been dead for generations?
   In truth, as with all of the following interpretations, most people use originalism when it suits them. Finding a quote from a framer to support a modern position can be a powerful way to advance your point of view.
   
   Modernism/Instrumentalism
   Those who most oppose the Originalist approach often consider themselves to be modernists, or instrumentalists. A modernist approach to Constitutional interpretation looks at the Constitution as if it were ratified today. What meaning would it have today, if written today. How does modern life affect the words of the Constitution? The main argument against originalism is that the Constitution becomes stale and irrelevant to modern life if only viewed through 18th century eyes. Additionally, we have more than 200 years of history and legal precedent to look back on, and that we are modern individuals, with as much difficulty in reasonably thinking like 18th century men as those 18th century men would have had trouble thinking like us.
   Modernists also contend that the Constitution is deliberately vague in many areas, expressly to permit modern interpretations to override older ones as the Constitution ages. It is this interpretation that best embodies the Living Constitution concept: the Constitution is flexible and dynamic, changing slowly over time as the morals and beliefs of the population shift. Modernists do not reject originalism - they recognize that there is value in a historical perspective; but the contemporary needs of society outweigh an adherence to a potentially dangerously outdated angle of attack.
   Originalists feel that modernism does a disservice to the Constitution, that the people who wrote it had a pure and valid vision for the nation, and that their vision should be able to sustain us through any Constitutional question.
   
   Literalism - historical
   Historical literalists believe that the contemporary writings of the Framers are not relevant to any interpretation of the Constitution. The only thing one needs to interpret the Constitution is a literal reading of the words contained therein, with an expert knowledge in the 18th century meaning of those words. The debates leading to the final draft are not relevant, the Federalist Papers are not relevant - only the words.
   The historical literalist takes a similar look at the Constitution as an originalist does, but the literalist has no interest in expanding beyond the text for answers to questions. For example, an historical literalist will see the militia of the 2nd Amendment as referring to all able-bodied men from 17 to 45, just as in the late 18th century, and this interpretation will color that person's reading of the 2nd Amendment.
   
   Literalism - contemporary
   Very similar to an historical literalist, a contemporary literalist looks only to the words of the Constitution for guidance, but this literalist has no interest in the historical meaning of the words. The contemporary literalist looks to modern dictionaries to determine the meaning of the words of the Constitution, ignoring precedent and legal dissertation, and relying solely on the definition of the words.
   Just as the historical literalist view parallels the originalist view, but much more narrow in focus, so too does the contemporary literalist mirror the modernist; and again, the main difference is the literalist looks only to the words of the Constitution for meaning. To expand on the 2nd Amendment example, the contemporary literalist will view the militia as the modern National Guard, and this will color that person's views on the 2nd.
   
   Democratic/normative reinforcement
   Finally, the democratic interpretation is the last approach to interpretation. Democratic interpretation is also known as normative or representation reinforcement. Democratic proponents advocate that the Constitution is not designed to be a set of specific principles and guidelines, but that it was designed to be a general principle, a basic skeleton on which contemporary vision would build upon. Decisions as to the meaning of the Constitution must look at the general feeling evoked by the Constitution, then use modern realism to pad out the skeleton.
   As evidence, democrats point out that many phrases, such as "due process" and "equal protection" are deliberately vague, that the phrases are not defined in context. The guidance for interpretation must come from that basic framework that the Framers provided, but that to fill in the gaps, modern society's current morals and feelings must be taken into consideration. Changes in the Constitution that stem from this kind of philosophy will end up with principles of the population at large, while ensuring that the framers still have a say in the underlying decision or ruling. This interpretation is seen to enhance democratic ideals and the notion of republicanism.

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